An aide helps Fusako Nishino roll her wheelchair into a tanklike tub. The 88-year-old Yokohama(Japan) assisted-living resident waits patiently as the aide uses a touch panel to set the water temperature, water level, bath duration, and type of herb-based soap to be used. The Sanyo Electric Co. tub fills up in 60 seconds. It then cycles through wash, rinse, and dry — much like the automatic washing machines the company also makes.
The retired telecom employee’s biggest helper is the bathroom itself. Nishino’s private washroom is outfitted with a sensor-activated faucet, so there’s no fussing with taps. She has a high-tech toilet with a wash cycle of its own. “Everything is so much easier for me now,” she says. Soon, she could get even more help: Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., another consumer electronics giant, has developed a medical toilet that can analyze the sugar in her urine and relay the information to a doctor over the Net.
The market known as e-health may be one of the most important digital arenas of the future, as populations in developed societies rapidly age.Japanis emerging as a test bed for digital gadgetry that is designed with the disabled or elderly in mind, but high-technology medical gadgets increasingly are getting attention inAmericaandEuropeas well.
With the explosion of e-health applications, the $1 trillion health-care industry may see sweeping changes. A 2001 Harris Interactive Inc. study found that a big majority of people using the Net would like to get e-mail reminders for preventive care, follow-up e-mails after visits to doctors, and faster access to lab tests.